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Board member seeks more clarity about police probe of LVCVA

Updated August 10, 2018 - 11:01 pm

With a looming public vote on a retirement package for Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority CEO Rossi Ralenkotter, a key board member said Friday he wants more details about the police investigation into the mishandling of $90,000 in Southwest Airlines gift cards.

The convention authority board on Tuesday will discuss Ralenkotter’s financial separation agreement, along with a potential six-figure bonus and 18-month consulting contract worth $180,000.

“I would be interested to hear what Metro is looking at beyond what our comprehensive audit uncovered,” said Bill Noonan, a gaming executive who chairs the board’s audit committee. “I would hope to hear more clarification of their position.”

At the request of board chairman Lawrence Weekly, Deputy Chief Shawn Andersen hand-delivered a letter Wednesday to Weekly, saying, “At this time, there is insufficient facts to support a criminal case against Mr. Ralenkotter.”

Weekly briefed fellow board members about Andersen’s letter in an email. He told them police had found “insufficient evidence” to charge Ralenkotter, but left out the letter’s context of “at this time.”

“As you know, this reaffirms the findings from our auditors and legal counsel, as reported in the April 2018 board meeting, that Mr. Ralenkotter demonstrated no criminal intent or criminal wrongdoing,” Weekly told his colleagues.

But the Review-Journal has learned that the police investigation is just beginning. Detectives have done little beyond picking up records from the convention authority on June 28.

Weekly could not be reached for comment late Friday, and a police spokesman said Andersen was unavailable for comment.

Ralenkotter could not be reached for comment Friday. In a statement on Thursday, he said, “It is gratifying that Metro concurred with our auditors.”

Veteran criminal defense lawyer Thomas Pitaro said Friday that he has never seen a law enforcement agency issue a letter about an ongoing investigation like the one from Metro.

“They usually don’t give potential targets updates as to the course of the investigation,” Pitaro said. “That would arguably allow people to know what they’re doing and take potential evasive action against it.”

Board action questioned

On Thursday, Pitaro said, “If there’s still an active investigation going on, it makes no sense for the convention authority to be proceeding as if Ralenkotter has been exonerated.”

Weekly’s interpretation of the police letter allowed Ralenkotter to announce his Aug. 31 retirement. It also allowed the board to place Ralenkotter’s extensive retirement deal on Tuesday’s board agenda.

Ralenkotter, 71, who will start collecting state pension benefits worth at least $350,000 per year when he steps down, does not have an employment contract, and the board has no legal obligation to pay Ralenkotter a retirement settlement or bonus.

Noonan, who ordered the board’s audit into the airline gift card irregularities, said Friday he did not want to comment on Ralenkotter’s financial settlement until he sees details.

Noonan publicly criticized Ralenkotter in April for his poor judgment in using nearly $17,000 worth of the Southwest Airlines gift cards on personal trips, often with his wife.

Ralenkotter, the third-highest-paid public official in the state with annual salary and benefits of about $863,000, apologized and reimbursed the convention authority for the cost of the cards. Weekly also used the gift cards to pay for a $1,400 trip with his daughter. He paid back the agency for the cost of his daughter’s flight.

Brig Lawson, a top convention authority executive who bought the gift cards from Southwest Airlines and distributed them within the agency, resigned earlier this year. The audit revealed that $50,000 worth of Southwest gift cards were missing.

Both the airline gift card audit and the police investigation came after a Review-Journal investigation found excessive convention authority spending on high-end entertainment, gifts for employees and first-class trips overseas for board members.

The Review-Journal also found Las Vegas Convention Center security officers were directed to leave their posts to chauffeur Ralenkotter to various locations, even though Ralenkotter receives a $9,000 annual vehicle allowance. Also, the investigation discovered that authority warehouse staff gave away thousands of dollars worth of iPads, Bose speakers and other gifts intended to promote tourism without noting the recipient or business purpose. Warehouse staff also provided about $6,000 worth of gift baskets to Ralenkotter.

The newspaper requested employee gift and travel records more than a year before the board hired the auditors, but the authority did not provide any records of the airline gift cards. It maintained that there was no process in place at the time to track usage of the cards.

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson. Las Vegas Sands Corp. operates the Sands Expo &Convention Center.

Contact Jeff German at jgerman@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4564. Follow @JGermanRJ on Twitter.

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